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Democrats Renew Push On Economic Issues

Megan Harris
90.5 WESA
Joe Biden launching his campaign at a Pittsburgh Teasmters hall in April 2012

This morning will mark a bid by Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential campaign to reaffirm its focus on economic messages, targeting some of the voting blocs – namely union workers and people of color – that are key to Democrats hopes in the critical swing state of Pennsylvania.

The effort will include an upcoming cable-news appearance, TV ads that include Pittsburgh faces, and a “Broken Promises” tour by Democrats. And in western Pennsylvania, the blueprint for the outreach is a six-page white paper provided to WESA and titled “Made in Pittsburgh: How Joe Biden will fight for workers and create jobs in the Steel City.”

Much of the document blasts the Trump administration’s job performance on failing to contain the coronavirus, and on tax changes that largely benefited the wealthy. And it outlines bedrock Democratic proposals, like pledges to support a $15 an hour minimum wage, to shore up enforcement of labor-safety rules, and to pass legislation to make it easier for workers to form unions.

“Trump thinks if the stock market is up, his rich friends and donors are doing well, and corporations see their valuations rising -- then everyone must be doing well,” the paper asserts. “But Joe knows from growing up in working class neighborhoods in Scranton and Delaware that the measure of our economic success is the quality of life of the American people. And right now people in Pittsburgh are struggling.”

Delivering on some key Biden promises, of course, will also depend on the outcome of Congressional elections: Republican opposition often stymied such measures when Biden was vice president. But the plan also pledges executive-branch actions to reverse Trump’s moves. For example, it reaffirms Biden’s support for a plan to expand overtime eligibility to workers – a plan that Trump has sharply scaled back since taking office. It also reiterates Biden’s support for “Obamacare” health-insurance protections for those with pre-existing conditions – and reminds voters that the Trump administration is fighting a legal battle to scrap the law that provides them.

Biden also pledges to invest in such Pittsburgh-friendly infrastructure projects like bridge repair and lock-and-dam replacement – as well as to reinvest in aging water systems that pose potential health threats in western Pennsylvania and elsewhere. And the white paper reminds local voters that some major infrastructure projects – including improvements at the Pittsburgh International Airport and the North Shore Connector extension of Pittsburgh’s light-rail system – received funding from the Obama administration as part of a 2009 economic recovery plan.

Trump promised similar investment during his own 2016 campaign for president, though a promised massive infrastructure-spending plan has yet to materialize.

Trump has skewered Biden for the fact that much of China’s rise as an economic rival took place during the Obama/Biden administration: Biden’s plan addresses that criticism by noting that Trump’s trade wars have had collateral damage on some domestic firms, including western Pennsylvania steelmakers.

Biden’s own policy prescriptions on China are more restrained, and include familiar pledges to reward companies for locating manufacturing in the United States, and to “take aggressive trade enforcement actions against China or any other country seeking to undercut American manufacturing,” while investing $300 billion in research and development. It also voices support for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which provides assistance to smaller manufacturers. Trump budgets have repeatedly sought to eliminate funding for the program, despite support for it.  

Since this is, after all, western Pennsylvania, the Biden document also stresses – as Biden did in a speech here last month – that Biden “is opposed to banning fracking – no matter how many times Trump lies about it.” The plan reiterates that Biden would only bar gas drilling on public lands “but about 90% of fracking is done on private lands today.” The plan did affirm Biden’s support for green energy, and briefly affirm that he favored “limiting methane emissions”: Trump moved to ease such restrictions this year.

Democratic efforts to rally behind the plan will begin later this morning with a Pittsburgh-based “virtual roundtable” focused on Biden’s support for unions and manufacturing. That will be followed by a series of “Broken Promises” events hosted statewide by Pennsylvania Democrats, and intended to remind voters of the economic costs of the failure to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats will also be foregrounding support for minority-owned businesses, with an ad campaign highlighting Black business owners: One such spot will feature Marimba Milliones, who has long worked in community development in the Hill District.

Biden will also appear at a CNN forum held in Scranton – his hometown and a key battleground for a battleground state – on Thursday.

The new round of efforts builds off Biden’s deep ties to labor – he essentially launched his campaign in a 2019 speech at a Pittsburgh union hall – but also reflects the importance of economic issues. Biden has generally led in polls conducted here. But some polling suggests that despite the coronavirus’ economic impact and an unemployment rate of over 13 percent, many Pennsylvania voters still credit Trump for what had been a strong economy.

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.